If I had a time machine and could go back to visit the younger me, I believe he would be bewildered and dismayed by my later-in-life embrace of process. He’d rail at me at how creative people – you know, the really creative people – won’t let themselves be restrained by a set process. He’d pontificate (he was big on that, believe me) about how creative development is part magic, part alchemy … nothing that can be restrained by a spreadsheet or even worse a Vizio chart.
And he’d be a little right. But so am I.
There are some pretty basic things you can do to create the framework of a solid, repeatable creative development process, And it WON’T stifle creativity, or keep any of the magic from happening. In fact, your creative performers see that the B.S. has been removed from the system, they’ll realize they are really free to concentrate on the magic and alchemy.
1. Figure out what your creative process looks like right now.
This starts with a few basic questions. How many creative teams (or performers) do you have? How many projects can they (or more to the point, how many projects should they) be working on simultaneously? Once you know the upward capacity per performer or team, you can calculate your overall capacity. It’s tempting (especially in an agency model) to say “our capacity is set by our clients” … but that ends up being counterproductive, very quickly.
Once you’ve got a handle on how many jobs can go through the pipeline at any given time, you should also document the steps along the way. Who writes the creative brief? Who approves it? How long do they have to review it? How soon after a project kicks off is your team reviewing concepts? How many rounds of revisions are in your process?
2. Document the process. Then review it with everyone who participates in it.
Once the milestones of the process have been identified, it’s time to document them. The level of detail of that documentation can vary – whether you have a fully executed Vizio map or a simple Excel spreadsheet isn’t the point. The real value comes when you share the basics of the process with the people who use it on a day-to-day basis. I bet you’ll be surprised at how the different parties had some different assumptions about the steps and timing. Getting everyone on the same page is important – but you may find that it’s the discussions driven by this conversation that are the most valuable outcome.
3. Pin down roles and responsibilities.
Like so much in our business, I think there are a lot of assumptions regarding roles and responsibilities. “Creative presents ideas and the account executive/brand manager/client approves them.” That’s probably still right, to a certain degree, but how about making it a little more specific. Nothing wrong with that, right? For example, who is the senior-most decision maker? You know, the person who can come in at the last minute and undo everything everyone has already agreed to? Figure out who THAT is and make sure she or he sees the work at the right time in the process — when things can be changed WITHOUT a lot of rework, missed insertion dates, etc.
You might even consider documenting everyone’s roles and responsibilities in a nifty little process doc called the RACI form. R is for Responsible, A is for Accountable, C is for Consulted, and I is for Informed. Once everyone agrees on who is Responsible and who is Accountable (as in, fireable if things go really, really wrong) and who else just needs to be Informed or Consulted, it really helps clarifies things.
4. Invest in a Really Good Traffic ManagerYou can have the best, most logical and fully vetted creative development process ever invented. Or, conversely, you can have it written on the back of a soggy cocktail napkin. Either way, you need someone to run the process. And the better the person, the easier your life will be. So, what makes a good Traffic Manager? In my mind, it’s someone who really understands the creative process, knows everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and doesn’t allow anyone to slide. I can’t stress this enough – find yourself a great Traffic Manager and do whatever you can to keep them around!
Having a good creative process doesn’t ensure you’ll generate great creative. You still need the right creative performers for that. Having a good creative process, however, will set those performers free to do what they do best.